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Disability Practice in the Spotlight

Meet Our New President

Anthony Gartner

Anthony Gartner

We can all feel that our jobs are busy enough and there’s no room to take on anything else.  So when someone steps up to take on an additional role, it’s a courageous and commendable act.  So we acknowledge and welcome Anthony Gartner’s commitment as he takes up the role of our new President of The Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability (ATEND).   He aspires to be as talented and accomplished in the role as his predecessor, and is excited about the opportunity in this leadership position to contribute to the valuable work of the disability practitioners in improving the experiences of tertiary students living with disability.

Anthony suggests that there is potential to build on the great ATEND List Serv (aust-ed) and connections made at Pathways to provide even greater synergies across the sector.  “We’re all doing great things, but often in isolation”, says Anthony.  “So it would be wonderful if we could share more of what we do to provide better practical learning and support to each other”.  

In particular Anthony would like to see the recently developed Student Satisfaction Survey for Students with Disability that was rolled out in five universities across Victoria during 2016 be adapted and extended across other states as a national framework to support development of best practice for supporting students with lived experience of disability.   The data of this initial survey provided some great comments from students about the importance of disability practitioners.  It was found that they play a unique and critical role in helping students feel connected to university.  As a relationship is built and maintained over a number of years, this means that the practitioner is often there for the student through the whole of the study journey. 

Anthony is also making a worthwhile contribution to the sector as the Manager of Student Equity and AccessAbility Services at the Swinburne University of Technology for the last seven years.   In this role he has responsibility for overseeing services not only to students living with disability, but also students from refugee and asylum backgrounds, and equity projects, grants and scholarships.   And since the implementation of Swinburne’s AccessAbility Action Plan the service also provides support to carers.

“We are really proud that carers have been recognized in our AccessAbility Action Plan” says Anthony.  “They too face challenges in their studies, such as requiring flexibility for unplanned absences”.

Anthony regards the Swinburne AccessAbility Action Plan adopted in 2014 as one of the highlights of his role.  In this plan they have shifted the language from disability to access-ability.  He is committed to this, as he believes the word disability talks about what has been taken away and what people can’t do.  But AccessAbility places more emphasis on what students can do, and what university can do to assist them with what they want to achieve.  This commitment has been informed by his own experience as a person living with MS for fifteen years, and is much more interested in what he can and is inspired to do. 

Swinburne is a dual sector university that offers a number of VET, as well as graduate, post-graduate and on-line courses.  Approximately 1300 students living with disability are registered with their service each year, and are scattered across every teaching division. 

As with other institutions in the sector they are seeing a rise in the numbers of students with significant mental health conditions, and a growing awareness of ASD, both within university and the community in general.

Anthony holds a Master of Social Work, and before taking on the role of Manager, Anthony worked at Swinburne for four years as a youth worker with at risk young students in the VCAL and pre-apprenticeship programs.  These students were not connected to secondary schooling and needed alternative ways to further their education.  He has also worked as a support worker in residences for people with intellectual disability, and with young offenders in the UK. 

“I have worked with many different people experiencing extraordinary circumstances, and I’m never ceased to be inspired by their stories”. 

However, Anthony is drawn to working in a learning environment, as he has seen the difference that education can make in the lives of people and he personally loves learning for his own self-discovery and growth, and enjoys sharing this opportunity with others.  Going along to a graduation ceremony and seeing the students that he’s assisted receive their certificate is always one of Anthony’s greatest highlights. 

While as a manager he is not always directly involved in assisting students reach their aspirations he does touch base with students as often as he can, and is always proud to meet them when they receive awards or scholarships.

He is especially proud of one student’s achievements who completed a Stepping Into Program internship and then a PACE Mentoring placement through Australian Network on Disability (AND).  This student took advantage of both opportunities and has moved to Sydney to embark on a successful career.

Anthony has attended three Pathways conferences as he believes they are a great opportunity to meet colleagues from across Australia.   What absolutely comes through to him at these is the total commitment of practitioners to their roles, as well as the wellbeing and achievements of their students.

But you’ve been in the role for a while, sometimes it’s easy to feel tired and jaded, so Anthony reminds you not to forget to celebrate and retell your stories of success.  

And he advises anyone new to the role to listen to their students, as they are their own experts.  Students can tell you what they need as long as you ask the right questions.   And the role of the practitioner is to manage the university, to ensure that they’ll do what they said they’d do to address and remove barriers wherever possible. 

However Anthony knows that relationships with staff across the university need to be impeccable.  “If you damage these you limit opportunities for your students” he advises. “The best advice ever given to me at university is to always assume that everyone is doing the very best that they can”.

Into the future Anthony would like to see overall an acknowledgement of the increase in resources needed to maintain quality services.  And for Swinburne he aspires to have an Assistive Technology Officer who could teach students to use and get the most out of adaptive technology.

And out of hours you may get to catch Anthony singing in LowRez, a 40 member men’s choir who do one major performance and a number of smaller gigs throughout the year.  Perhaps one to put on the entertainment list for a future Pathways?